Standing against slavery...while others happily profited

Standing against slavery...while others happily profited

By Gareth Dennison | 03/07/2020

Standing against slavery...while others happily profited


WITH the Black Lives Matter campaign winning headlines across the world, the subject of slavery has come under the microscope in the UK. Here, we look at how Rotherham’s famous Walker family spoke out in opposition to slave-owning.

WHILE many prominent northern families profited from slavery, the Walkers of Rotherham were fervently against the practice.

One example is Elizabeth Abney, who married Henry Walker in 1806, and whose sister Susanna married Henry’s dad Joshua Walker.

In addition to being religious, having a love of music and being an accomplished pianist, Elizabeth was an ardent campaigner for the end of slavery.

At this time, black slaves were put to work on West Indian sugar plantations and cotton fields in the US. At least 12 million slaves were transported — about a quarter of whom died in the squalid conditions aboard the ships.

Meanwhile, there was involvement in the trade not too far from here.

John Spencer, of Cannon Hall in Barnsley, owned a slave ship, and the Lascelles, of Harewood House near Leeds, were among the top one per cent of aristocratic slave-owning families.

A huge portfolio of West Indian property was acquired by the latter as plantations were surrendered to creditors during times of financial difficulty in the years after the American Revolutionary War.

Edwin Lascelles, who had grade I-listed Harewood House built near Leeds between 1759 and 1771, received more than 27,000 acres and almost 3,000 slaves between 1773 and 1787. These would have been worth over £28 million in today’s money.

The family’s portfolio dwindled during the following decades, but even when emancipation happened in the 1830s, the family received £1.9 million under a parliamentary scheme to compensate former owners of freed slaves.

Elizabeth wrote poems about the trade, inspired by either meeting those who had been freed, who gave talks at meetings, or from her reading pamphlets publishing their life stories.

One poem, called Ladies’ Bazaar, was written in aid of the establishment of a school for slaves in the West Indies.

Elizabeth and Henry had four children and her portrait is still at Clifton Park Museum, where she lived — following the deaths of Joshua and Susanna — for about 20 years until her death in 1850.

Joseph Walker, nephew of iron and steel firm founder Samuel, was uncle to Elizabeth’s husband Henry.

There were many letters exchanged between Joseph and Yorkshire MP William Wilberforce, who was among the nation’s most prominent anti-slavery campaigners.

The correspondence refers to William visiting the family at Eastwood House in Rotherham in 1789 and a stay at Masbrough.

The family made a profound impact on William, although it was thought he disapproved of some elements of their lavish lifestyle. Joseph is referred to as “my dear Jo” and “my dear Walker” in letters and William signs off “ever sincerely and affy (affectionately) yours”.

As well as slavery, they had common ground on the Test and Corporation Act of 1673, which prevented the Walkers, as nonconformists, from serving on the council or any other such body in Rotherham. It was repealed in 1828.

In a letter to Joseph on December 5, 1789, William wrote: “I look on you with twice the respect since I have been an eyewitness of your family relations. I trust I write to one who knows how and for what he has a reason to be grateful.

“And so you are back to Eastwood. Well I beg you to remember to it; ’tis a place which will long present many pleasing images to my mind.”

William Wilberforce died on July 29, 1833 — a month before parliament passed the Slavery Abolition Act to give freedom to all slaves in the British Empire.

The act took effect on August 1 the following year and the date is now when we celebrate Yorkshire Day and William's role in campaigning for emancipation.

Poetry Emotion

THIS poem, called Lucy Neal, highlights the plight of one family being affected by the slave trade — and shows the sympathy felt by Elizabeth Walker.
She also wrote about animals and death, including exploring the effect on parents when a child passes away. Elizabeth also hated cruelty to animals, especially horses.

When in my native, happy land,
How joyous was each day,
With my sweet Lucy by my side,
Each flower look’d bright and gay;

And buds of rich and varied hue,
And sparkling shells were there,
I gathered them on coral strand
To deck my Lucy’s hair!

We ne’er had tasted sorrows cup
Ne’er dreamed of coming ill.
Alas! The though of bye-gone days,
Our hearts with anguish fill;

The Slave-ship’s bloody banner waved
Upon our peaceful shore;
Then ruffian hands, and cruel hearts,
My Lucy from me bore!

Ah! What an awful sight was that!
I never can forget
My Lucy bound by galling chains,
I think I see her yet!

Ye bloody fetters, lash severe,
Your pangs I heeded not;
I gazed on Lucy’s death-like brow,
Wept for her hapless lot.

However, a poem thought to be written by a former employee of the family suggests Elizabeth was not so kind when it came to her own servants.
It refers to the running of Blythe Hall when Elizabeth and Henry Walker lived there, in the years before they moved to what is now Clifton Park Museum.
Fair Elizabeth the Pride of Pork Hall was penned under the pseudonym The Anti-Slave Committee, an ironic reference to Elizabeth having such strong sympathy for slaves in America while seemingly not caring as much about employees within her own household.
It claims that food for servants was kept under lock and key — and weighed carefully.

In a neat little village in fair Nottinghamshire,
There lives a blooming damsel as you quickly shall hear,
She is not very young though handsome and genteel,
Her name is Fair Elizabeth, the pride of Pork Hall.

If you are a servant and come to live at this place,
Misery and starvation stare you in the face,
Our food is all weighed, and measured are the coals,
Everything is locked up by the Pride of Pork Hall.

One young man at this place, oh shame and disgrace,
Nearly died of starvation while at this place,
He was out without food when the rain it did fall,
When he got home there was no fire at wretched Pork Hall.

So pluck up your spirits and an effort let us make,
To restore this little village to its once happy state.
We once more might be happy if the Devil would call,
And fetch away Elizabeth, the Pride of Pork Hall.